Doubt and Certainty

Certainty is vanquished doubt, it is faith regained.

Adam and Eve by Cranach
In the meditation on Eden and the Fall in the Arcanum of the Lovers in Meditations on the Tarot, Valentin Tomberg tells us a little more about Hermetic meditation and how to obtain greater depth. He credits Carl Jung for discovering the method of successive explorations of the psychic layers in psychology. These depths extend even beyond one’s birth, and, since nothing dies, the entire past lives right now in the deep consciousness of the soul, i.e., the unconscious or subconscious. Keep in mind that this refers to the psychic memory, not necessarily the memory of physical events.

The example he uses is the story of Adam and Even in the book of Genesis. Unlike the fundamentalists who try to prove the historical and scientific veracity of the story as an objective event, Tomberg instead turns inward. He is not concerned with the external facts of the garden, trees, serpent, etc., but rather with the living psychical and spiritual realities that are revealed through the symbolism used in the story.

First of all, the story reveals the “beginning”, i.e., it is an initiation, not just of man as an objective being, but also of his interior states. That beginning is the primordial state of being in the image and likeness of God. The reawakening of that state is regeneration or theosis. But Paradise is also the beginning of the Fall, or the principle of temptation, which has three elements:

  1. Eve listened to the voice of the Serpent
  2. She saw that the tree is good to eat and pleasant to behold
  3. She took some fruit, ate it, and then gave some to Adam

In general, temptation follows the following progression: listening, seeing, and experiencing.

The Tree of Life is the spirit, or higher centers, or true Self. The higher centers are oriented “vertically”, i.e., transcendentally. They hear the voice of God, which is one and unchanging. Adam-Eve are in unity and there is no doubt. Together, they are a pneumatic being.

Eve is the feminine principle of Adam, that is, the soul (or “anima”), i.e., the psychic (or “animal”) level. The serpent is the most cunning of the “animals” which is why “Eve” is the first target. (In English the connection between animal and anima is lost.) She listens to the serpent, which represents horizontal consciousness, i.e., the world as though it exists apart from God. The promise he makes is opposed to God’s command, so all of a sudden Even is faced with doubt as she entertains two contrary thoughts.

Just listening to the serpent is the root cause of the Fall, because the two opposing thoughts are considered to be on the same level. Yet the serpent’s claim seems plausible since the Tree of Knowledge is tasty and a delight to look at. This just increases the doubt to the point of an unbearable tension. There are two ways to deal with doubt.

  • One is to overcome it by rising up to a higher plane, that is, to return to God. This is the way to faith and certainty.
  • The other way is to try to resolve the doubt through experience. After all, Eve assumed that by actually eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she could see for herself whether the serpent’s claim was true. This choice just leads to more confusion.

By interiorizing the story in this way, Tomberg elucidates the nature of temptation and how it is a constant presence in our spiritual lives, not just a unique event that happened to some other people in the indefinite past. God is One, but the devil is legion. Hence, in the “world”, we are bombarded with a barrage of opinions, all claiming to be the truth, and all contradictory with each other. This sows confusion. Now it should be a straight-forward decision to reject the ways of the world in favor of the ways of God.

Unfortunately, the glamour of the world is too delightful and we are nearly irresistibly attracted to it. What we hear sounds plausible, it makes us feel good, it enhances our self-esteem, and so on. Considering an idea in the mind then leads us to act on it, so we seek out various experiences by which we hope to assuage our doubt and find happiness. The temptation multiplies because, as Tomberg points out, those who fall into temptation try to draw others into the same experience as a way of confirming their own decision.

We don’t have to go into all the details and anyone can come up with countless examples from the news and in his own life. This meditation on Genesis is not meant to be a one-time meditation, so over time meditators can see more and more how the world entices us with its various promises. The reigning worldview is that if it feels good, it must be right. But that is tantamount to living at the level of an animal, when we really need to be living in the image and likeness of God.

It takes a lot of courage to resist all the temptations we face; just as the world lies to us, we lie to ourselves, hence the need to be extra vigilant. Ultimately it is a matter of Grace. There is no technique or process that will lead us to the primordial state. By clearing the soul of the perturbations resulting from temptations, we will open ourselves up to the experience of Grace. This cannot be forced. That is why Tomberg concludes:

One has experience but does not seek out experiences, because it would be contrary to the holy vow of Chastity to extend a hand and take from the tree of knowledge. The spiritual world does not tolerate experimenters. One seeks, one asks, one knocks on the door, but one does not open it by force. One waits for it to open.